Giuseppe Isaaco Ottolengi is probably the best known Ottolenghi of recent history is and this is his story.
In 2004 I was living in Rome and amongst other things I was researching the history of the Italian Ottolenghi, when as founder of Ottolenghi International and co-founder of its internet site ottolenghi.org I was contacted by Alberto Sarzi Madidini of the historical association of the Comune di Sabionetta to assist with the translation of his publication on the biography of General Ottolenghi.
The following is an abridged and adapted version of that publication.
GIUSEPPE ISAACO OTTOLENGHI
Senator of the Realm,
Minister of War
GIUSEPPE ISAACO OTTOLENGHI
Senator of the Realm, Minister of War
Translated, adapted and abridged
from the Italian original written by
Alberto Sarzi Madidini
On the Centenary of General Ottolenghi’s Death
On 2 November 1904 General Giuseppe Ottolenghi, who was born in Sabbioneta in the north of Italy, died in Turin. Only one year earlier he was the Minister of War in the second Zanardelli government appointed to that illustrious position directly by King Vittorio Emanuele III, following the General’s posting as Instructor of Military Science.
It was the last in a series of important positions held by the General in his illustrious and multi-decorated military and political career as a result of which he became very high-ranking figure in the Jewish history of Italy and Europe.
From his heroic debut as a volunteer in the “Risorgimento” campaigns to emancipate and reunify Italy, to the fight against the “Brigantaggio” the bandit gangs who were attacking landowners in the south of Italy, until the restructure of the army after the disasters of the wars in Africa, his contribution was of great importance for the unification and the consolidation of the new Italian State. An example of almost complete religious integration, the first Italian Jew to be made a general and eventually becoming a Senator of the Realm and later the Minister of War, his biography personifies those exceptional qualities of his life.
The Ottolenghi are one of the more important Italian Jewish families.
In the communities of Asti, Acqui, Casale, Mondovì and Moncalvo the Ottolenghi have always been numerous. It is, in fact, from Acqui (actually Acqui Terme, in the Piemonte province of Alessandria) that the father of Giuseppe, Aronne (Aaron) Ottolenghi came. In 1824, Aronne married the Sabbionetana, Gentila Forti, daughter of the important local Jewish family.
The first Jews had come to Sabbioneta in 1436 and their community has always made a remarkable contribution to the city. The Jewish printing house that operated in Sabbioneta in the second half of the 1500’s contributed in decisive way to the spread of Judaic literature in Europe. In the first decades of 19th the century the Jewish community of Sabbioneta was still fairly large (in 1848 it numbered nearly two hundred) so many that in 1824, the year of the marriage of Aronne and Gentila, Giuseppe’s parents, a new synagogue was built. In these very years it happened that apart from Giuseppe Ottolenghi, another great Jewish Sabbionetano was born, Professor Pio Foà, a doctor of famous reputation who would later become, like Ottolenghi, a Senator.
The Register of Weddings of the Jewish Community of Sabbioneta, which is still conserved in the municipal library, reveals the following information concerning the wedding of Giuseppe’s parents:
Date : 12 March 1824
Groom : Ottolenghi, Aronne, born 1 December 1797 in Acqui domiclied in the province of Piemonte, businessman, Jewish, single.
Bride : Forti, Gentila Ester, born 17 October 1805 in Sabbioneta, Jewish, single
Father of the Groom : Manuel Salomon Ottolenghi, of Acqui, businessman.
Mother of the Groom : Giuditta de’ Benedetti, of Casale, businesswoman (deceased)
Father of the Bride : Forti Abramo, of Sabbioneta, landowner.
Mother of the Bride : Cantoni Lea, of Bozzolo, landowner.
Witnesses : Pincherle Jacobe of Verona (landowner currently domiciled in Sabbioneta).
Foà Leon of Sabbioneta, landowner.
Signed : Aronne Ottolenghi, Groom – Gentile Ester Forti, Bride.
By permit of the ’Imperial Regia Delegazione Provinciale dated 4 February 1824.
Ceremony conducted by Sanson Levi, Rabbi of the Sabbioneta Jewish Community.
The Ottolenghi family, we learn from the same registers, lived in a house in the Giulia District No. 70, where Giuseppe and all the other children of Aronne and Gentile were born. From recent research of the archives and from the current owners of the property we know that today the house is number 54 Via Vespasiano Gonzaga which is situated a few metres from the Forti family’s palazzo. Since 1811 the large house had been the property of Abramo Forti, the maternal grandfather of Giuseppe. The same palazzo later housed the Nievo family for a while. In fact, Antonio Nievo, father of the writer Ippolito Nievo, was the magistrate of Sabbioneta. Ippolito Nievo, wrote the novel “L’Emanuele” in 1852; it remained unknown and was only published in 1991. The novel was dedicated to the author’s Sabbionetano friend, Emanuele Ottolenghi, brother of Giuseppe.
In the Jewish Register of Births of Sabbioneta (also preserved in the local library) the following details of Giuseppe’s birth are entered:
Born on 26 December 1838 at 4 am
Circumcised 2 January 1839 with the name of Giuseppe Isacco, legitimate son
Mother Forti Gentilla residing in Sabbioneta, Contrada Giulia 70
Father Ottolenghi Aronne residing in Sabbioneta, Contrada Giulia 70
Married on 12 March 1824 before the Rabbi of the Jewish Community
Both Jewish and landowners
Godparents Leone Isaia Norsa, landowner residing in Mantova, Contrada Vicolo dell’Olio 3027
Michele Bonajuto Foà, residing in Sabbioneta, Contrada Belfiore number 145.
Aronne Ottolenghi and his wife, Gentila Forti had, in addition to Giuseppe, seven other children. Their names and the little we know of some of them are thanks to the information registered in the books of births and deaths of the Sabbioneta Jewish Community.
Giuditta Anna: Born in Sabbioneta, Via Giulia 70, 29 May 1825; died 21 July 1825. The baby girl died in the house of Abramo Forti and was buried on the same day in the local Jewish cemetery; the cause of death is recorded as:“convulsione non senza indizi di putrefazione” – convulsions not without indications of gangrene.
Salvatore: Born in Sabbioneta, Via Giulia 70, 11 July 1827. Godfather – Jacobbe Ottolenghi resident in Acqui Terme, Nuova District, no number. The newborn child died on 1 August 1827 in the house of Abramo Forti and was buried on the following day in the local Jewish cemetery; the cause of death is recorded as “febbre ardente” – a severe fever.
Abramo: Born in Sabbioneta, Via Giulia 70, 4 November 1828.
Emanuele Salomon: Born in Sabbioneta, Via Giulia 70, 2 October 1830.
Elena: Born in Sabbioneta, Via Giulia 70, 20 May 1841; died in Sabbioneta 4 October 1841. The baby girl died in the house of the family Via Giulia 70, and was interred on the following day in the Sabbioneta Jewish cemetery; the cause of death is recorded as:“malattia di ventre cioè enterite” – a disease of the stomache i.e., enteritis
Giacobbe: Born in Sabbioneta, Via Giulia 70, 30 September 1842.
Adele Elena: Born in Sabbioneta, Via Giulia 70, 24 January 1845.
After the birth of Adele Elena there are no further documentary references to the family’s presence in Sabbioneta. The Ottolenghi’s owned no property in Sabbioneta, the house in which they had lived remained the property of Abramo Forti until 5 March 1847, on which date it was sold to Salomone Foà.
We think that the Ottolenghi family left Sabbioneta for good in the period between 1845 and 1847 in order to return to Piemonte, the place from where Aronne Ottolenghi had come to Sabbioneta.
Nor are there any documents attesting to any consequent return of the General to Sabbioneta until in 1903, when the citizens decided to organise a celebration in honour of General Giuseppe Ottolenghi, and three other illustrious Sabbionetani.
An article in a newspaper of the period describing the celebratory event.
“The clear blue sky expressed its intention to join us to beautify today’s festival, to render the Tricolour even livelier as it profusely waves everywhere. Many houses are bedecked with garlands of greenery. Along the route of the procession can be seen multi-coloured placards honouring the illustrious citizens. The effect is most beautiful.
“Since the early hours of the morning with the first trams from Mantova and Viadana, hundreds of people arrived and nearing 10 o’clock, they all approached the railway station in order to await the arrival of the special train. The station, recently embellished with a roof, is decked out with flags. The band of the 37th Infantry in dress uniform plays the Royal March. All appear and from every part applause erupts. “His Excellency Ottolenghi appears first on the balcony of the saloon wagon and doffs his hat in greeting. Following him the university professors, di Giovanni, Foà, and Albertoni. The Minister and Professor di Giovanni appear moved more than the others. The Mayor of Sabbioneta, Doctor Filippi, and the members of the Festival Committe ascend to deliver the salute of Sabbioneta.
“With the same train, escorted personally by the director of the line Cav. Ing. Sacchett, arrives the prefect Comm. Vittorelli with some civlian dignitaries, the mayor of Commessaggio, Doctor Cessi, goes up to the station in formal dress to welcome His Excellency, with newspaper reporters outside. Also at Gazzuolo, the Minister was greeted by the Mayor, Cav. Viglioli, accompanied by other local dignitaries. In the station courtyard on hand are four magnificent official carriages placed at the disposal of the Committee. Also the well-known Count Cantoni Marca is there. The band of the 37th Infantry play the Royal March continuously, leading the procession that makes its way in time with the music and entering through XX September Gate in front of the Town Hall.”
“In the Council Chamber wait several members of the Committee and the splendid group of ladies who have organized the party which will begin later. As soon the guests of honour enter they are toasted with vermouth. The Mayor reads some telegrams of congratulation and the Order of the Day of the Committee that expresses the joy of the local population to host their illustrious fellow citizens, to see them re-united them in their home town, the pride of being able to call them fellow citizens, and to wish them long and prosperous life in which to honour and benefit the motherland and its peoples. They answer briefly and emotionally, the Minister, and then the three university professors between the most appreciative applause of all those present. At noon, escorted by the Mayor and the Committee, the Minister and the other guests of honour visit the local patriotic monuments. They take a unanimous decision to use their influence to devise some actions to end the neglect and decaying effects of time. There follow short visits to the local benefactory institutes and S.E is for a short time the guest of Cav. Emilio Forti, accepting the kind invitation to pay homage to his late mother who, as is well known, was also a Forti. In the Great Hall on the first floor of the Town hall, at 2 o’clock there is a banquet for 120 guests. At the top table sit the four honoured citizens together with the prefect Comm. Vittorelli, the Mayor, Lieutenant-Colonel Tezzoli, commandant of the 69th regiment in full ceremonial uniform, the judge Signor Casara, the secretary and other notables. The formal banquet proceeds. At the dessert, the Minister responds to the address of the Mayor and the judge Signor Casara, repeating his thanks and his belief that the concord that has reigned in preparing for this day, will ensure the well-being of the city and its people.
At the end of the banquet something very curious happened. All the banqueters armed with the commemorative postcards bearing the portraits of the four guests of honour, rushed to the top table to obtain everyone’s autographs: that is the proof that “collection mania” has invaded the world, even in its humblest recesses, the guests of honour remained patient and obliging. The Minister was informed, at 4.30 that the special train which was to take him to Ponte Maiocche was ready. The morning’s procession reformed lead by the band and accompanied by the huge crowd, His Excellency arrived at the station. Taking his leave of the Mayor and Professor Albertoni, he ascended the train with Comm. Vittorelli and the professors Di Giovanni and Foà, who were to accompany him to the next station, from where they then continued to Casalmaggiore. At the moment of departure, while an enthusiastic salute applauded him, His Excellency was visibly moved by emotion. In the afternoon the rest of the festival programme continued…”
Returning to the private life of the General, we know that he began to study at the University of Turin, but then in 1859, left to enter the Military Academy at Ivrea. There are no documents in support of any other academic achievements but on 19 August 1871 he was appointed Professor of Military Science and History at the School of Infantry and Cavalry (Military Academy of Modena).
During that period, he wrote the treatise “Tactical and Special Operations” as asserted by Agosto del Forte in “Illustrious Sabbionetians”
“[It] is a presentation of military argument, and it results from appropriate studies of the art of war, manifested through time and the various circumstances in which the military events took place, and the practical experience of Ottolenghi on the battlefields, together with meditation on the errors of the past, and those which he himself had witnessed, without having yet the authority to provide solutions”
He was to remain at the Military Academy of Modena only for a couple of years and after that brief interruption returned to his military career.
Giuseppe married on 25 February 1877 (as reported in the “Copy of Service Records), Elisa Segre, widow of De Benedetti; there is no record of the couple having had any children.
The General died in his rooms in Turin at 12.30 a.m. on 2 November 1904. The following morning the Prefect of Turin, Gasperini, conveyed the sad news by telegram to the President of the Senate. The funeral took place on Friday 4th November 1904 at 2.00 pm, the body of the deceased was carried from his rooms to the Cemetery at 2.40 pm as reads the invitational telegram to the President of the Senate from the Commander of the Armed Forces, General Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia.
This Memorial Speech commemorating General Giuseppe Ottolenghi, was made in to the Senate on 3rd December 1904 by the President, the Hon. Tancredi Canonico:
“At a yet young age and in the prime of his life, without warning on 2 November in Turin General Giuseppe Ottolenghi passed away. Born in Sabbioneta in the province of Mantova, 26 December 1838. A brilliant and courageous officer, highly talented, scrupulously precise in the implementation of his duties, ready always to assume all responsibilities, his life was one of uninterrupted and zealous service to King and Country. He began his studies at the University of Turin, left them in 1859 in order to enter the Military Academy of Ivrea; and in that same year, at the beginning of the campaign, was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Standard Bearer at the siege of Gaeta, he was hit by a musket ball in the right side and won the Silver Medal of Military Valour.
In 1863 he was already captain on the General Staff. He won another Silver Medal of Military Valour in 1864 fighting the Brigands. In an unexpected and serious conflict, he had assumed the command of some leaderless infantry and cavalry; his horse was killed, himself wounded in the arm and chest, but the action under his command was a complete success. In another action in 1866 another horse was killed under him and he was wounded again, when, in order to save General Brignone who was in danger at Monte Croce, had taken command of riflemen and the guides who followed him in charging the enemy. He was awarded the Cross of Knight of the Military Order of Savoia.
Promoted to Major, he taught the History of Military Science at the Military Academy of Modena. He re-entered the General Staff and was shortly promoted to the rank of Colonel, he rose through all the ranks until the supreme rank of Commander of the Army Corps. Appointed a Senator, and then Minister of War in 1902, he retired from the Ministry at the end of October of 1903. In 1869 he had been sent to assist in the great military manoeuvres of Châlons, that were then of no small importance: and in 1878-80 worked actively in the International Commission for the Demarcation of the Turco-Montenegran Border. Rigid in discipline, but full of heart, the soldiers revered and loved him; because under the outer severity, they always felt the justice and the goodness in him. The army has lost in him a skilled and learned officer; the Country has lost a zealous servant, the Senate a dear and much-appreciated member
Military Record and Political Career:
27 February 1859 Giuseppe Ottolenghi enlisted as a volunteer in the Piemontese army and began his career as a cadet with courses at the “Royal Academy of Ivrea”. Giuseppe’s voluntary enlistment should not come as a surprise as so many Jews had participated enthusiastically in the reunification movement following the emancipation campaign of 1848 that the then King, Carl Alberto afforded to the Piemontesi Jews equality of rights with all others in the south. In the ranks of the the Garibaldini (followers of Garibaldi) in 1848-1849 fought two hundred of them.
Giuseppe Ottolenghi joined the other famous Italians of Jewish origin who have left a profound mark in the culture, politics and the military of the country. The number of 235 Jewish volunteers who enlisted in the Sardinian army in 1848, had risen to 260 in the campaign of 1859. In 1860 28 Jewish Officer-cadets entered military colleges, increasing in successive years so that in 1895 the Royal Army yearbook numbered 700 Jewish officers, on permanent active duty or members of the army reserve corps, in the Kingdom of Sardinia, Sardinian citizens, after 1860, Italians, of Jewish origin became completely integrated in the texture of contemporary society and many of them often entered into the ranks of the army, distinguishing themselves in their intelligence, patriotism and ability
11 April 1859 Ottolenghi became the first Italian Jew to being admitted to the Officer Cadet Course of the Army; commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and assigned to the 17th Regiment of Infantry.
27 July 1859 Cultured, skillful and active, in the same year he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in the Army of Infantry and Lieutenant the following year.
12 November 1860 Wounded in the right side by a musket ball during the siege of Gaeta that marked the end of the rule of the House of Bourbon in the south of Italy. On that occasion he was decorated with his first Silver Medal of Military Valour.
12 March 1863 Promoted to the rank of Captain and attached to the General Staff; the following year he was posted to Sicily.
30 May 1864 Wounded in the right arm and the chest from two of the large calibre bullets called “caprioli” during the campaigns against the bandit-brigands “Brigantaggio” at S. Ilario (Basilicata); He was awarded his second Silver Medal of Military Valour.
14 October 1864 Took the Oath of Allegiance in Avellino.
23 June 1866 Distinguished himself in the battle of Custoza (Verona) and on the next day at Monte Croce, also in the Province of Verona.
August 1869 Sent to advise and observe in the great manoeuvres of the French army at Châlons, near the border with Germany; at that time so important that they were carried out to the presence of Napoleon III.
9 November 1872 promoted to Major and posted to Sicily to the 62nd Infantry Regiment.
31 May 1877 appointed Chief of General Staff of the 2nd Army Corps at Alessandria.
8 April 1879 member of the international commission for the solution of the conflict and the demarcation of the Turco-Montenegro border. This international assignment of great importance entrusted to Ottolenghi by the Italian Government emphasized the importance of the Sabbionetano General in the army and his much appreciated abilities, military and also diplomatic.
20 May 1880 Ottolenghi returned to command of the General Staff Corps in Rome.
In November and December 1880 he was sent back on mission to Montenegro.
13 October 1882 the 4th Alpine Regiment and the Aosta Artillery Brigade are established in Turin;
1 November 1882 Ottolenghi was made the commandant.
8 April 1888 appointed Colonel, Commander of the King’s Brigade of Infantry in Rome.
14 April 1889 became the first Italian Jew to reach the rank of Major-General.
1889 to 1891 Instructor in military matters to the Crown Prince, the future King Vittorio Emanuele III.
13 January 1895 promoted to Lieutenant-General.
16 February 1895 was transferred to Turin as commander of the Territorial Army Corps.
8 July 1899 assumed the command of XII Army Corps in Palermo.
16 April 1902 Commander of the IV Army Corps.
14 May 1902 Lieutenent-General Giuseppe Ottolenghi appointed by Royal Decree, “Minister, Secretary of State for War” in the second Zanardelli Government in place of the dismissed Count Gustavo Ponza di San Martino. This appointment was particularly significant since at that time the choice of Ministers was the prerogative of the Crown. The young King Vittorio Emanuele III, had evidently, appreciated Ottolenghi’s tutorship and the general had not forgotten that the Crown Prince had been under his command, some years before, in Naples.
The following day, in the audience of 15 of June, His Majesty the King appointed Ottolenghi, Senator of the Realm.
From the Minutes of the Senate of 23 Maggio 1903 we learn of the official communication of the nomination from President Saracco.
In the same session, Ottolenghi took oath and immediately introduced a draft of the law concerning conscription.
He was a minister for only 18 months (in those years the Governments had only short life) during which he was unable to carry out an in-depth restructuring of the army. The international political situation at the time did not threaten war, and the government had other budgetary priorities.
As Minister for War, Ottolenghi tried to improve the criteria for conscription into the army, the most important military problem at the time. For years, in fact, the Italian General Staff had pressed the Ministry of War for the approval of a new recruiting law that would reduce the signing-on period to two years. That would have brought about an increase of the number of those young people who every year came to enlist, and to an increase of well-trained reservists. The idea was to abandon the national system of recruitment in favour of a regional one which would also speed up mobilization. The annual voluntary service was to be abolished as it had proved to be absolutely useless as source of recruiting officers.
Parliament however, did not approve Ottolenghi’s initiatives, privileging those of the wealthier ranks; Ottolenghi accepted the votes of the Chambers without controversies. Ottolenghi’s proposed but unapproved attempts to reform the army demonstrate his farsightedness and competence (the same proposals were to be approved some years later), as well as his deep respect for the decisions of the Parliament.
The Historical Archives of the Senate of Rome contain the speeches of Ottolenghi before the High Assembly between 12 June 1902 and 1 July 1903. Amongst others that should be noted, the “Dispositions for the Conscription of those born in 1882”, the “Budget of the Ministry of War”, the “Dispositions concerning Portraits of Officers”, the “Modifications to the Laws on the Order of the Royal Army”, the ”Institution of Military Pharmacists”, the “Commemoration of Senator Luigi Cremona”, the “Financial Statement of the Ministry of War”.
13 November 1902 Decree published in the Official Military Journal, ordered the incorporation of skiing for the alpine regiments. That decision contributed not a little to the promotion of skiing among the people.
In the period of his ministry were acquired, in 1903 from FIAT, the Army’s first internal-combustion engine motor cars. Also in 1903 an army mechanics corps was established.
29 October 1903 the Zanardelli government fell, and with it, Giuseppe Ottolenghi retired as Minister of War. In the successive Giolitti government the Minister would be Ettore Pedotti.
1 December 1903 General Ottolenghi re-entered the army on active service as Commandant of the Territorial Army Corps of Turin, in place of General Valles. This was a command of great prestige because at that time France was considered a potentially hostile nation and the Army had to bear the onerous tasks of operational planning and logistic organization. It is his last assignment, for a few short months later died of heart failure, whist still on duty in Turin.
The military career of Giuseppe Ottolenghi is studded with the decorations and most important honours of the Italian Crown
Commemorative Medal of the French Campaign of Italy of 1859.
Silver Medal of Military Valour according to the citation of 1 June 1861 for his distinguished conduct during the siege of Gaeta 12 November 1860”
Silver Medal of Military Valour according to the citation of 30 April 1865 for his distinguished conduct during the campaigns against the “Brigantaggio” bandit-brigands at S. Ilario (Basilicata) 30 May 1864”.
Medals for the Wars of Independence and the Unification of Italy, with the fascette of
the 1859, 1860-61 & 1866 Campaigns.
Knight’s Cross of the Military Order of Savoia (today of Italy) “for his cool, timely and intelligent action under the fire to execute the orders of the General, charging Monte Croce, regrouped platoons of Riflemen and Guides assigned to the Headquarters. 24 June 1866” [Decree nr 120 bis of 6 December 1866]
Cross of Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy 27 April 1870.
Cross of Knight of the Order of Saints Maurizio and Lazzaro, 27 January 1878.
Cross of Officer of the Order of Saints Maurizio and Lazzaro, of the Crown, 15 January 1880.
Cross of Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy 31 January 1881.
Medal of the “Unification of Italy 1848 – 1870” 26 April 1883.
Cross of Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown of Italy 28 December 1893.
Cross of Knight of the Order of Saints Maurizio and Lazzaro “for loyal and distinguished conduct” 21 January 1897.
Cross of Gold with Royal Crown for seniority 15 December 1900.
Knight of Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown of Italy 27 December 1900.
Cross of Grand Officer of the Order of the Saints Maurizio and Lazzaro 31 May 1901.
Diversi sono i siti Internet dedicati alla famiglia Ottolenghi, suggeriamo di visitare
http://www.ottolenghi.org/, http://www.oocities.com/ottolangui2002/, http://www.genealogytoday.com/surname/finder.mv?surname=ottolangui.
Il testo è tratto dal libro “Illustri Sabbionetani” di Agosta del Forte.
Queste ultime notizie sono tratte dal libro “I militari di origine ebraica nel primo secolo di vita dello Stato Italiano” di A. Rovighi.
L’elenco ci è stato gentilmente fornito dall’Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito di Roma
Alberto Sarzi Madidini, Associazione Pro Loco Sabbioneta,
Comune di Sabbioneta,
Comunità Ebraica di Mantova
Ufficio Archivio Storico del Senato della Repubblica, Roma
Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito, Roma
Archivio Storico della Camera dei Deputati, Roma
Sig. Umberto Maffezzoli, Sig. Vittorio Rossi, Sig.ra Benecc